20 Sep 2021

Remand prisoner likely infected en route to Firth of Thames residence

7:24 pm on 20 September 2021

A prisoner who tested positive for Covid-19 was likely infected by someone who transported him to an address in the Waikato, the Director-General of Health says.

Mt Eden Prison.

The man was bailed from Mt Eden Prison in Auckland which was in alert level 4 to a house in the Firth of Thames, which was in alert level 2. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The remand prisoner was transported to a Firth of Thames residence on 8 September on electronic-bail.

He developed symptoms three days later, but the infection was only picked up when he was remanded in custody on Friday, Dr Bloomfield said. He tested positive the following day and last night it was confirmed three of the nine people he lived with had also tested positive.

During today's post-Cabinet media conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they had knowledge of every movement of the prisoner as he was GPS monitored.

"They had to be transported by a specified person," she said.

"They needed to, more or less, take a direct route. Once they arrived, they did not leave their home residence."

Bloomfield said it was probable the prisoner caught the virus from one of the people who transported him to his bail address.

He said there was a small number of people who took the person to their residence. The journey predated the person's infectious period.

"We're still waiting for the whole genome sequencing on all the people involved but it seems likely that the person who was on remand was infected by someone who had been in Auckland - probably one of the people who transported himself ... remaining at home with the other members of the whānau, he's infected the other members of the whānau."

Further information has also been released by the Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu regarding the prisoner's movements.

He had been remanded in custody and held at Mt Eden Correctional Facility since 27 April, before being released on electronically monitored bail on 8 September.

Strict conditions were imposed by the judge in the case, which included being transported by a specific family member.

On 16 September, the court was advised that his electronically monitored bail address was no longer available.

Bail was then revoked and an arrest warrant was issued. The following day, the man appeared in the Manukau District Court.

Mangatangi School

Two of the prisoner's three household contacts who tested positive attended Mangatangi School last week Photo: RNZ/ Andrew McRae

Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson told Checkpoint he was disappointed the prisoner was bailed to an address in Waikato and said he had expressed this to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

"I thought Department of Corrections would have applied a bit of common sense as well, knowing that they would potentially go across the border... I just can't understand the rationale at all," he said.

"It just shows that some people seem to think it's all right ... we can just move freely across the border. I've never heard so much rubbish in all my life."

But Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu said it was within the law to release a person on bail out of Auckland, across an alert level 4 boundary.

In a statement, Taumaunu said the Covid Public Health Order allowed a judge to release a person across an alert level boundary.

"The judge will consider a range of factors set out in the Bail Act 2000 including the seriousness of the charges and the time already spent in custody. In this case, the judge was satisfied that the grant of electronically monitored bail and the proposed bail address were appropriate," he said.

Taumaunu said in this case strict conditions were imposed by the judge, including that a specified family member was available to collect him from Mt Eden Prison and take him directly to the bail address with no unnecessary stops.

The man was to be electronically monitored and required to reside at the bail address 24/7 and could not move from that address without prior approval.

Ardern said the government was asking Corrections why multiple people picked the man up.

They were also checking whether the person who was directed to transport the person went with them for the entire journey to the bail address.

This afternoon, she announced part of northern Waikato had been issued a section 70 order, requiring people who live or work there to stay at home.

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